In our recent blog, we highlighted the benefits of the virtual campus tour, and now we'll explain ways to create them successfully. By understanding the latest technology, communicating your unique story, and capturing student data to use in future marketing campaigns, you'll be off and running (virtually) in no time. But first, let's identify common concerns among colleges and universities worldwide.
Considerations to Make & Overcoming Challenges
- Are you worried your campus feels less impressive than your competitors? No worries! Take a look at what's happening outside the gates of campus. Not every school has a building featured in a popular movie, Instagram-able views, famous mascot, or sprawling golf course. If you have a great area outside the campus, showcase it! Schools in big cities may not have a ton of real estate (think New York City), but there is plenty to attract prospective students around town.
- If you are like many admissions offices, you may not have the time or budget to hire a fancy video production company. Utilize your Communication, Media, and Film Department. Give current students a chance to add a line to their resume while showing off their campus. From editing to filming, photography, and virtual tour scriptwriting, it takes a team to create an experience as unique as your institution. And who knows campus better than current students?
- Some of the campuses is currently under construction. Perfect! Families want to see their hard-earn tuition money going toward campus improvements. If available, add project renderings to the virtual tour or add a 24/7 onsite construction camera to your school-branded visit page on the website.
- The school's website is outdated. No problem. With sites like YouTube, Vimeo, CampusReel, and CampusTours, your institution can host a quality virtual tour without redoing the entire school-branded website.
- What if families are confused by the visit platform and turned off by the experience? Digital technology can feel highly advanced to traditional users, but most sites that host virtual tours give brief tutorials at the start of the visit. Harvard University's YouVisit tour is a great example.
3 Aspects of an Outstanding Campus Tour
- 360° Cameras — Update how virtual visitors explore your campus for under $500 (see the best 360° cameras for 2021). Gone are the days of clicking through a photo gallery. Now users can scroll through campus and immerse themselves in your community from the comfort of a laptop or smartphone. Check out HubSpot's Ultimate Guide to Creating 360-Degree Video.
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) — When high school recruitment events and college fairs are a thing again, you may notice students are flocking to tables more than print collateral and keychains. While higher-end virtual reality headsets can cost as much as $8,000, frugal college representatives might want to consider something like Google Cardboard for $6. The capabilities of virtual reality and augmented reality are endless in the college classroom, and these technologies may also play a crucial role in the future of virtual campus tours. See Augmented Reality (AR) vs. Virtual Reality (VR): What's the Difference?
- Drone Footage — Invest in the latest aerial technology for around $1,000. Campus footage that seemed futuristic two decades ago is now the new standard thanks to quadcopter drones, talented pilots (behind the smart controllers), and solid video editing. Whether your campus is 20- or 2,000-acres, drone footage can give prospective families the complete helicopter view that no professional photographer could ever capture on land.
Who will tell your school's unique story? One of the benefits of a virtual tour compared to an in-person tour is utilizing different voices. From the president of the college and the various school deans to the current students and mascot, break up the virtual tour by changing the guide. This works best with pre-filmed tours like Vanderbilt University created below and can also work through sites like YouVisit (see Penn State University).
While the history of the institution and iconic architecture are essential to your campus identity, prospective students want to connect with the community, not the buildings. Choose campus representatives who are enthusiastic, loyal, and authentic. Many schools have business departments, but no school offers the same internship experience that one of your students experienced.
The goal is for visiting families to say, "Tell me more" rather than "That was boring."
YouVisit does an excellent job subtly collecting data without making it feel like a time-consuming survey or never-ending inquiry form. Before taking a YouVisit virtual college tour, prospective students provide information used further down the marketing funnel. Colleges can find a student's name, date of birth, email, major of interest, home address, and extracurricular hobbies without lifting a finger. For schools not utilizing the YouVisit (or similar) platform, there needs to be information exchanged and data collected. This can be strategically accomplished after the visit as well.
Once you have written a tour guide script, filmed, edited, got approval from the higher-ups, and posted your video on a host site, what's next? Virtual campus exposure in the early stages of a college search is vital to higher education marketing, but obtaining prospective student data must follow.
- Surveys — Google Forms and Survey Monkey are free and recognizable tools to get more information from your visitors. Frame questions around the quality of the video, navigability of the 360-degree footage, information provided on the tour, campus representatives, and satisfaction.
- Ping a Rep — Automated marketing platforms in higher education are highly beneficial throughout the enrollment cycle. Once a student signs up for a visit, make sure their respective admissions counselor knows it. After a family completes a post-visit survey, have the representative reach out to answer any questions. If a family isn't satisfied with a specific aspect of the tour, find out why. Not only will a phone (or screen-to-screen) interaction add a personal touch to the experience, but it is also a way to get more information from a future student.
- Post-Visit Communication— A campus representative may not be available immediately after a family's virtual visit, but an automated email or text message can be generated 24/7. In the message, thank the family for visiting, invite them to campus for a recruitment event or in-person information session, and encourage them to learn more or complete an application. The immediate communication will add value to their experience.
The question is not "Will virtual tours remain relevant?" but "Who will create the best virtual college tours in the future?" As the global pandemic begins to disappear, universities worldwide are ready to welcome people back to campus. Yet, after a year of exclusively hybrid living, society now craves flexibility more than ever. As a result, the tech-savvy generation of college prospects your institution hopes to recruit is waiting with a smart device in hand to see what you have to offer.